4-day firestorm of controversy ends with Utah Rep closing its doors

"American Psycho" has been canceled after it was scheduled to play at the Regent Street Black Box at George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Theater, pictured. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/EWS23

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, Dec. 3, 2019 (Gephardt Daily) — Four days after an actor vandalized the Utah Repertory set of “American Psycho,” and one day after that actor posted the reasons for his act on Facebook, the theater has closed down all operations.

“Utah Repertory Theater Company closes its doors after seven wonderful years of productions,” says a theater Facebook post issued in the early hours of Tuesday.

“The company’s plan to present ‘American Psycho: The Musical’ unfortunately will not be produced following a cast decision to end the staging. All patrons who purchased tickets should contact ArtTix for a full refund,” the statement says further in.

(Utah Rep had contracted to use a black box theater within the Eccles Theater, which has no involvement in the controversy.)

On Monday, “American Psycho” actor Ryon J. Sharette confessed on Facebook that it was he who painted words (“F*** this show,” once on the set and once on the floor) in a post he encouraged everyone to share.

“I’m not a disgruntled employee who vandalized property on the way out the door. I’m a person who was tired of a company’s abuses against his castmates and was trying to make a very precise amount of trouble to stop the abuses and allow my cast to leave blame free,” the post says, in part.

“Am I sorry I painted the set? Not really. (I’m not using ‘vandalized’ carefully here. One man’s vandalism is another man’s nonviolent protest.) I got a ticket for criminal mischief and I’m willing to pay it. I did the deed. I’ll take responsibility for my actions.”

Sharette’s post went on to detail allegations that:

  • A choreographer “asked us to do unsafe things without being shown any safe technique; including dance lifts, kicking a woman, stepping on a woman, choking a woman and lifting her off the ground by the neck….”
  • The production put actors in physical danger by having actors perform on a table not strong enough to handle their weight
  • Actors would be called to rehearsals where they weren’t needed, and actors would not be called to rehearsals for which they were needed
  • Several scenes were directed several different and contradictory ways by the choreographer, director, and music director
  • A choreographer and a producer made racist or racially insensitive remarks
  • Five actors and a marketing worker quit. A choreographer was replaced after cast complaints
  • Rehearsals were added by surprise, “doubling or tripling our total rehearsals,” a hardship on the cast
  • Complaints were handled in a dismissive or condescending fashion
  • A lead actor and executive with Utah Rep allegedly kissed cast members without consent and tried to convince them to have sex with each other, the statement says
  • Cast members became sick or injured, including a back injury from dancing by Sharette, and “another actor had an injured arm, another actor had a rolled ankle, two got so sick they were throwing up; there were emotional breakdowns regularly
  • The writer heard that a lead actor allegedly drugged another actor without the victim’s knowledge

“When I first signed on for ‘American Psycho,’ several people came forward, friends, telling me not to do a show with them,” Sharotte wrote. “They had horror stories from working on previous musicals – ‘Rent,’ ‘Carrie,’ ‘Cabaret,’ etc. – mountains of details too long for me to go into. They have their own stories to tell that aren’t my business to divulge.”

Utah Repertory Theatre posted on its Facebook page that it still intended to present “American Psycho,” but opening night would be delayed. Shortly after, additional cast members posted that they had dropped out of the production.

Gephardt Daily reached out to several Utah Rep or show executives. Managing director and producer J.C. Carter responded with the following:

“Our official statement is that we are grateful for seven years of being able to bring adventuresome and thought-provoking theater to the Wasatch front. We regret that issues occurred during the rehearsal process of ‘American Psycho’ that caused the cast this level of discomfort that lead to a walk-out.

“We wish them well in their future endeavors, and support our fellow theater companies in exploring the type of straight-from-Broadway productions that we have been able to produce. We have made the decision to close the company, as we do not think we could have continued with our next season, or any future productions, in the current environment.”

A Facebook group, “Utah Rep Boycott Reasons,” was formed Monday, and had been joined by nearly 250 people by Tuesday morning. Numerous people who joined came forward with their own allegations of abuse while working with Utah Repertory theater.

A GoFundMe account, “Support the Cast of American Psycho,” was established with the stated purpose of compensating the cast for work.

One who donated on Tuesday morning identified himself as Johnny Hebda, whom Sharette and others had named as an abuser and an executive with Utah Rep. Gephardt Daily cannot confirm it was posted by Hebda, who declined an interview request.

“I too believe theater should be a safe place,” says a post accompanying the $200 donation.

“I feel horrible for the cast of ‘American Psycho’ who many I consider friends. This is not meant as a defense for anything. I have made mistakes, I have done wrong, I either directly or through those involved with the company I founded have hurt those artists and volunteers involved. I have failed. I need to do better and be better. I deserve the consequences that have and will come to me. My focus will be on changing and striving to rectify those wrongs and those who have been hurt. The closing of Utah Rep is the right decision.”

Update: After the story broke, someone who said she was a cast member posted a comment on the story published by City Weekly saying Sharette was part of the sexual harassment problem, and that he made suggestive comments and ignored requests to stop unwanted massages.

The comment writer — who posted anonymously so could not be contacted by Gephardt Daily — said she hoped more cast members would come forward and speak about what was a complex story.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Headline and first graph are incorrect. A Utah *company* closed its [metaphorical] doors. The *company* has closed down all operations.

  2. The apology from Johnny Hebda on the Utah Rep Boycott Reasons page was recognized by many as only an attempt to get off the hook, using poor excuses and ignoring how serious the allegations are, and how very many times he depended on actors’ passion for theater to get away with ignoring contracts, and showed no real focus on either the process or product.

  3. I had two fantastic experiences with Utah Rep as Music Director of Ordinary Days and The Bridges Of Madison County. The directors, cast and crew were professional and skilled. I was always impressed by the Utah Rep’s commitment to using live musicians and their high production values. The productions were positively reviewed and extremely well received by all our audiences. I am saddened by this turn of events and want to acknowledge that there have also been many positive by this company contributions during these seven years. I hope for healing from this and I wish everyone well.

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